Scooping for Poop. The Step-by-Step Guide to Collecting Your Dog’s Stool Sample

Introduction

A dog’s stool sample provides valuable information about their health and can help diagnose a variety of conditions. Vets routinely request stool samples from dogs to check for intestinal parasites, bacterial or viral infections, inflammation, maldigestion, and malabsorption. Changes in a dog’s stool can indicate illness or disease. Collecting and analyzing a fresh stool sample allows the vet to detect parasites like roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms, and giardia before they cause harm. Stool testing also helps identify specific bacterial or viral infections like parvovirus that require treatment. In addition, the presence of fat, blood, excess mucus, or undigested food in the stool can signal issues with the dog’s digestive system or organs like the pancreas, liver, and gallbladder.

When to Collect a Sample

There are two main scenarios when pet owners should collect and bring a stool sample to the vet – routine wellness checkups and when suspicious symptoms appear.

As part of routine wellness care, vets recommend testing a stool sample 2-4 times per year to screen for intestinal parasites. Parasites are common in dogs and cats, even indoor pets, and can cause health problems if left untreated. Getting a regular fecal test allows detection and treatment of parasites before symptoms emerge [1].

Stool samples should also be collected and brought to the vet promptly at the onset of any suspicious symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, weight loss, or seeing worms in the stool. Catching gastrointestinal issues early allows for faster treatment and prevention of complications [2].

So in summary, pet owners should collect and bring a fresh stool sample to the vet 2-4 times per year as part of routine wellness screening, and also whenever any troubling digestive symptoms emerge.

Preparation and Supplies

Before collecting your dog’s stool sample, gather the necessary supplies to safely and effectively obtain the sample. The most important supplies include:

  • Non-absorbent gloves – Wearing gloves prevents direct contact and contamination. Nitrile or vinyl gloves work well.
  • Bags/containers – You’ll need a clean plastic bag, container or scoop to collect the stool. Sealable baggies or small Tupperware containers with lids work great.
  • pet owner putting on gloves to handle stool sample

  • Disinfectant – Have disinfecting wipes or spray on hand to sanitize surfaces after collection.

You may also want to have paper towels, a flashlight if collecting at night, and a permanent marker to label the sample. Make sure to assemble all supplies before collecting the sample for a quick and seamless process.

Collection Process

It’s important to collect a fresh fecal sample that is less than 24 hours old. The sample should be taken directly from the dog’s rectum if possible or immediately after defecation before environmental contamination occurs. According to Dr. Waldman’s Blog, “Collect a fresh sample that’s less than 24 hours old” (https://www.mallardcreekvet.com/dr-waldens-blog/how-to-collect-a-stool-sample).

Collect at least a 1-inch chunk of stool if possible, as larger samples are better for analysis. Superscoopers recommends, “Pick up the fresh poop without touching it. For example, put your hand inside the poop bag and use the bag as a glove to pick up the stool” (https://www.superscoopers.com/how-to-collect-a-stool-sample/). Avoid contamination from dirt, litter, or other debris as this can alter test results.

Place the sample in a clean, sealed plastic bag or sterile collection container. Refrigerate immediately to preserve sample integrity. Keep chilled but do not freeze.

Storage and Transport

Proper storage and transport of your dog’s stool sample is important to preserve it for accurate testing. The sample should be refrigerated as soon as possible after collection. Freezing is not recommended as it can damage cells and disrupt the composition of the sample.

Place the fecal sample in a clean, sealable plastic bag or specimen container. Make sure to remove as much air from the bag as possible before sealing. This prevents degradation. Double bagging provides extra protection against leaks.

Refrigerate the sample right away, ideally storing it on ice or a cold pack. Keep the sample refrigerated until it can be transported. The sample must remain cold – so bring it in a cooler or insulated container when going to the vet. Samples kept refrigerated are generally stable for 24-48 hours. Allowing the sample to sit at room temperature too long before testing can skew results.

sealed container with stool sample being refrigerated

When transporting, place the bagged specimen on ice or freezer packs inside an insulated cooler. The goal is to maintain refrigeration temperature as much as possible. Avoid direct contact between the ice and fecal material. Cushion the sample between layers of insulation to prevent freezing.

Bring the sample to the vet’s office as soon as possible after collection. Call ahead to see if they have any additional instructions for storage and transportation.

Common Sample Mistakes

When collecting a stool sample, it’s important to avoid some common mistakes that can impact the accuracy of test results. Two notable mistakes to steer clear of are:

Not Collecting Enough

It’s crucial to collect an adequate amount of stool for testing. As a rule of thumb, you should collect at least a teaspoon to tablespoon-sized amount. Collecting too little stool can mean there are not enough analytes present for accurate test results. Make sure to scoop up enough fresh poop to get a sufficient sample.

Cross Contamination

person accidentally collecting grass and dirt along with stool sample

It’s essential when collecting a sample to avoid cross contamination with urine, dirt, grass, or other foreign materials. The sample container and collection tool should be clean. Never collect stool from multiple pets in the same container, as one pet’s stool can contaminate the other’s sample. Focus on collecting only the freshest stool to avoid contaminants.

Types of Tests

There are several types of stool tests commonly used for dogs. The most frequently used are fecal floatation and ELISA tests.

A fecal floatation test involves mixing a small amount of stool with a special solution that has a high specific gravity. This allows parasite eggs, larvae, and cysts to float to the top where they can be examined under a microscope. The fecal float is effective for detecting roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms, coccidia, and giardia.

ELISA testing, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays, allow for the detection of parasites and antigens in the stool through antibody reactions. These immunoassays can identify specific infections like giardia and cryptosporidiosis. ELISAs are more sensitive than microscope examinations for some parasites.

microscope and petri dishes to analyze stool sample

Other specialized stool tests may include fecal smears to look for bacterial overgrowth, fecal cultures to identify infections, and DNA tests to detect parasites not easily identified through flotation.

Understanding Results

A veterinarian will look for evidence of parasites, such as roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms, coccidia, and giardia in the fecal sample under a microscope. They will also check for blood in the stool, which can indicate inflammation or irritation in the GI tract.

Normal results indicate the stool is free of parasites, eggs, cysts, or blood. This is good news! It means your dog is likely healthy and parasite-free. However, a single negative test does not guarantee your dog is 100% parasite free, since shedding can be intermittent.

Abnormal results mean parasites, eggs, cysts, or blood were detected in the stool. This indicates your dog has some type of intestinal parasite infection that will require treatment. The vet can provide medication to eliminate the specific parasite found. It’s important to treat parasitic infections so they do not spread and cause further health issues.

Other abnormalities like unusual stool consistency, color, mucus, or foul odor may prompt further testing like bloodwork. Your vet will explain any abnormal results and next steps for treatment and additional testing if needed.

Follow-up Testing

If the initial fecal test results are inconclusive or unclear, the veterinarian may recommend follow-up testing. This is done to gain more information and reach an accurate diagnosis. Some reasons for additional testing include:

– The initial test was negative but symptoms persist, suggesting a false negative result. Follow-up tests help rule out or confirm intestinal parasites. According to PetMD, dogs with ongoing diarrhea or parasites visible in stool should have fecal exams repeated every 2-3 weeks until the symptoms resolve.[1]

– The presence of intestinal parasites was confirmed, but the specific type could not be identified. Additional testing can pinpoint the exact parasite infecting the dog.

– The veterinarian needs to confirm the intestinal parasites have been fully eliminated after treatment. Follow-up testing is done at intervals to monitor the efficacy of medications. According to VCA Hospitals, dogs on deworming medication should have fecal tests performed 2-4 times over a 6 month period.[2]

Follow-up fecal tests are identical to initial testing in terms of collection, storage, and methodology. However, some vets may use different tests the second time around hoping to gain clearer insights. Follow-up testing continues until a conclusive diagnosis is reached and the dog’s symptoms are resolved.

[1] https://www.petmd.com/dog/general-care/fecal-tests-dogs

[2] https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/routine-fecal-testing-faqs-for-dog-owners

When to Consult a Vet

In some cases, abnormal stool test results or persisting gastrointestinal signs warrant a visit to the veterinarian. According to the VCA Animal Hospitals, dogs with diarrhea lasting more than 24 hours, vomiting, blood in the stool, weight loss, or other concerning symptoms along with an abnormal fecal test should be evaluated by a vet as soon as possible (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/routine-fecal-testing-faqs-for-dog-owners).

Signs that may indicate the need for veterinary care include:

  • Diarrhea or loose stools persisting more than a day or two
  • Presence of blood or mucus in the stool
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Significant weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy or other signs of illness

A veterinarian can perform additional diagnostic tests, such as bloodwork and imaging, to pinpoint the cause of gastrointestinal issues that do not resolve with initial treatment. They may also prescribe medications or recommend dietary changes. Getting veterinary care promptly for abnormal test results or persisting symptoms can help prevent complications and improve the prognosis.

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